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After denture course makeover, patients are all smiles

Published on Thursday, December 14, 2017

By: Alana Bowman

Photo above: Dr. David Felton, dean of the School of Dentistry, snaps a photo at the request of patient Dyanne Sellers, of Madison, with the dental students who crafted her dentures, Nikki Morel, left, and Brandie White, right.

The automobile accident that nearly ended Dyanne Sellers’ life in 1985 destroyed her teeth.

“I was too young,” the Madison resident said of losing her teeth in her early thirties. “It happened on the interstate at the Woodrow Wilson bridge. I was in the hospital for two months. I’m really blessed to be alive.”

Since the collision, Sellers, whose parents emigrated from Beirut, has had several pairs of dentures, none of which fit her correctly. “With my old dentures, there was no room for my tongue,” she said. “The bottom ones had recently broken two different times.”

Sellers said that having dentures was a necessity for her line of work as a hair designer at Head Games, in Ridgeland, where she interacts daily with the public. “I wouldn't leave the house [without them], and that's the truth,” she said. “Call it vanity. Call it what you want.”

Sellers no longer has to wear ill-fitting, broken dentures thanks to the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry. As a part of a new addition to a longstanding denture course for second-year dental students, Sellers had her choice between two student-made pairs of dentures, free of charge, and she couldn’t be happier.

Dr. David Felton, dean of the School of Dentistry, gets a hug from Sellers in appreciation for her new dentures.
Felton gets a hug from Sellers in appreciation for her new dentures.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a set of teeth that fit like this,” Sellers said. “It’s a perfect fit.”

Students Brandie White, of Taylorsville, and Nikki Morel, of McComb, worked with Sellers during her appointment series that involved impressions and fitting. Patients had to commit to attending eight visits to allow the students to complete the course.

“This has been such an incredible experience, seeing how it's done. I love my girls,” said Sellers. “I'm going to miss them.”

Morel said that having her first patient was a rewarding experience, and presenting the new dentures to Sellers was emotional. “She cried and told us that we were really changing lives. It made me feel like we are here for a purpose and that what we are doing is important.”

Students Mary Linda Remley, of McComb, and Terah Shelby, of Brookhaven, were paired with patient Jackie Epps, who has been a housekeeper at the University of Mississippi Medical Center for 15 years.

Mary Linda Remley, a dental student, is pictured with her patient, Jackie Epps, of Jackson.
Mary Linda Remley, a dental student, is pictured with her patient, Jackie Epps, of Jackson.

For Epps, the dentures were a birthday present. A single parent who also helps take care of a grandchild, she has been without teeth for three years. As she looked into the mirror during her fitting, tears welled up in her eyes.

“I’m beautiful today,” Epps said. When Epps told her sister Nancy about the opportunity to finally have dentures, her sister cried. None of her other family members knew about the program, so a reveal party was planned for the family later that day.

Dr. David Felton, professor of care planning and restorative dentistry sciences and dean of the school, designed the program to allow students a more hands-on approach to learning the techniques of making dentures by treating a patient in the clinical setting.

“We can go from the classroom to the bench lab to the chairside, and they get to learn first-hand,” he said.

Remley said that having a real patient made a significant difference in the learning experience because each patient presented a different set of challenges. “What we’re given in class is stone models of ‘the ideal patient,’ and that’s not really ever the case,” she said. “We were able to work with our patient but also talk with others and see their patients and their ridges and what they were having to do” to make the dentures successfully for their patients.

Felton began screening potential patients earlier in the year. Because it was a pilot program, patients were first recruited from within UMMC. Out of the 30 patients screened, 18 were chosen and paired with two dental students each. Both students crafted a set of dentures, and the patient picked the pair that fit the best.

Chaffin smiles, showing off her new teeth.
Chaffin smiles, showing off her new teeth.

Plans are already in the works for next year’s course. Felton said the clinical part of the course will likely take place again in the fall 2018 semester, but it could start at early as next summer. The school will again offer the UMMC community and the general public an opportunity to take part, but patients must be screened beforehand to ensure they are good candidates for the course.

In order to qualify, potential patients must not have any remaining natural teeth nor any excess bone that would interfere with the fitting of the dentures.

“We need to find patients who do not have a severely compromised mouth but one that gives our students a good potential for a valuable learning experience,” Felton said.

Carolyn Chaffin, a certified coder for University Physicians at the Jackson Medical Mall, was under the care of students William Smith, of Brookhaven, and Tong Yang, of Jackson. After seeing a photo herself in a campus newsletter, she knew it was time to get dentures. She said she appreciated the importance of the learning opportunity the program offered students.

“I know this is a learning process,” Chaffin said. “You can't just take tests all the time. You've got to be in [the clinic]. It’s just wonderful to give them the opportunity to learn.”

If you have no natural teeth and would like to participate in next year’s course, please contact the dean’s office in the School of Dentistry at (601) 984-6000 to schedule a screening appointment with Dr. David Felton.